The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC) Regional Roundtable for Latin America and the Caribbean took place on 10 October, in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a side event of the XXI Forum of Environment Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). It brought together over 70 participants and fostered a dialogue with country and industry representatives to identify opportunities and challenges in the sustainable buildings and construction sector in the region and inform the regionalization of the GlobalABC Global Roadmap.
The Global Roadmap provides a collective framework for the buildings and construction sector to match the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement. It is not prescriptive, but identifies key steps to inform more detailed national Roadmaps: (1) Implementing urban planning policies for energy efficiency; (2) Accelerating the improvement of existing buildings’ performance; (3) New buildings achieving nearly net zero operating emissions performance; (4) Improving management of buildings; (5) Decarbonsing energy; (6) Reducing embodied energy and GHG emissions; (7) Reducing energy demand from appliances; and (8) Reducing climate change related risks for buildings. The GlobalABC has embarked on a regionalization process, inviting countries in the respective regions to engage in tailoring the Global Roadmap to regional and sub-regional contexts and priorities.
Regional Roundtables organized by the GlobalABC have as their objective to facilitate regional cooperation and peer-to-peer exchange of technical knowledge and good practices, and to foster match-making between GlobalABC members who then cooperate in selected areas to accelerate zero-emission, efficient, and resilient buildings and construction sector solutions across the (sub-) region, including those related to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
The thematic focus of the Regional Roundtable for LAC was developed through a joint effort between the GloablABC Secretariat and the Argentinian Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development. The topics were chosen for being particularly relevant to the regional reality so as to promote concrete and actionable learning and engagement, and to emphasize the importance of the building and construction sector to address climate change, implement the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The rich debate informed the outline of the Regional Roadmap towards zero emission, efficient and resilient building and construction, highlighting the importance of building codes and certification for new and existing buildings, awareness raising and education, and partnership between private and public sector.
The following issues were found to be of specific importance for the region: addressing the qualitative and quantitative housing deficit with climate proof buildings (energy efficient, on-site renewables and resilient); dispelling the myth that sustainable building and construction comes at a higher cost; promoting alternative building materials that contribute to local economies and that show good life cycle performance; and integrating the single building in its ecosystem, by embedding buildings in urban planning, and connecting housing decisions with key infrastructure decisions, particularly related to energy supply and mobility.
The development of a Regional Roadmap has been recognized in the Declaration of the Forum of Environment Ministers, and will be developed through an iterative consultative process.
WHY SUSTAINABLE BUILDINGS AND CONSTRUCTION IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN?
Latin America and the Caribbean is the most urbanized region in the world. The latest population data shows that 83.6% of South America, 74.2% of Central America, and 71.5% of the Caribbean is urban. Collectively, the urbanization rate is likely to increase to 90% by 2050. The bulk of this growth is expected to come from two countries, Brazil and Mexico, by 2025, which are home to 81 of the region’s 198 large cities.
The construction sector is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in Latin America, accounting for 45 percent of energy use and 17 percent of clean water consumption, according to recent studies. Buildings in the region consume 21 percent of treated water and 42 percent of electricity and are responsible for 25 percent of carbon emissions and 65% of waste. Considerable potential for reducing the carbon footprint exist by implementing future-proof solutions in the buildings and construction sectors. By transitioning to green buildings, the sector could reduce energy consumption by up to 50%, water use by 40%, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 39%, and solid waste by 70%, in addition to saving costs through the use of more efficient systems and boosting local economic activity through the use of more local sustainable materials.
Current building practices in the region, while modern, are often inefficient. One example pertains to water use – the region’s 17 largest cities lose an average of 35% of their potable water per year due to leakages, which is often avoidable. These water losses cause direct and indirect environmental damage, resource waste, and lost revenue for the cities. As growth continues over the coming decades, these challenges need addressing by using more efficient, less wasteful building practices to avoid future losses (Cesano & Russell).
Constructing sustainable buildings is cost efficient in the long run. A study from the New Climate Economy initiative found that US$3 trillion could be saved on global infrastructure spending by 2030 from more sustainable urban development principles (Mountford et al., 2018). These savings can be derived through green building practices especially. Research shows that every US$1 spent on energy efficiency equates to a 2.2 tonne reduction in CO2, as opposed to the 0.4 tonne reduction achieved from every dollar spent on renewable energy (Cesano & Russell). Looking specifically to Latin America, a reduction of 10% in building energy consumption in the region could lead to a savings of US$53 billion in energy costs over the next 10 years (Breisinger, Diez, & Tagwerker, 2012).
Demand for cooling will increase as well. A significant portion of Latin America has a warm climate and Cooling Degree Days are expected to increase even further due to climate change (15% to 45%), especially in the most densely populated areas, like Latin America’s urban centres (International Energy Agency, 2018). Energy efficiency has a particularly important role to play in this regard.
For the countries and cities in the region to live up to the commitments made under the Paris Agreement and the New Urban Agenda and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, significant investment in equitable, sustainable housing and other urban systems are needed. Such construction must be resource efficient and resilient to cope with the anticipated and unanticipated population changes, climate disasters, and resource shortages.